But the Australian government’s policy has changed, now allowing unvaccinated foreigners into the country, even without an exemption. Djokovic, the nine-time Australian Open singles champion, returned to Australia this year and received the warmest welcome so far on his way to the semi-finals of the premier tournament in Adelaide this week.
Despite Alcaraz finishing the season in first place, becoming the youngest man to do so, Djokovic finished 2022 on a momentum, winning his sixth ATP Finals. It was a triumphant end to his strangest and most turbulent season, as his vulnerable situation prevented him from competing in two majors (the Australian Open and the US Open) and four North American Masters 1000 events. He also did not receive any ranking points for winning Wimbledon due to Tours’ decision to remove ranking points for the tournament in light of their ban on Russian and Belarusian players.
Despite this major sporting handicap, Djokovic is still ranked fifth and was the favorite to win the Australian Open even before Alcaraz pulled out. But the Spaniard’s absence kills off the enticing prospect of a generational duel under reigning No. 1 and longest reigning champion.
The 35-year-old Serbian Djokovic has been leading the men’s list for 373 weeks and has a chance to regain that spot by winning his 10th Australian Open title.
Alcaraz, who reached the third round in Melbourne last year, will have to watch from a distance this time around and strengthen himself for the long haul in an increasingly challenging world class gymnastics that has become even more challenging over the short off-season.
He had 2022 to savor, winning five singles titles and serving up an avalanche of social media clip material with his airborne, action-packed style and flair for the sudden, stunning change of pace: often a thunderous forehand followed by a deft volley. He was also athletic, awarding points to the opponent and benefiting the doubt on multiple occasions.
But it is clear that his spirited career has taken a mental and physical toll. After winning the US Open, he won only six of his next ten singles matches, failing to reach another final. He also lost his matches at the Abu Dhabi Expo in straight rounds to Andrei Rublev and Rod.
His staying power, in contrast to his luminous talent, is, for the time being, a question mark.
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